Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Questions and Answers
by August Wilson

Start Your Free Trial

In August Wilson's play Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, why are various characters given unusual names and nicknames?

In Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, characters are given unusual names and nicknames in order to convey a particular personality trait or some symbolic representation. In this play, Levee and Toledo are notable examples. Toledo is self-educated and literate, proudly aware of his African heritage. His name is the same as the Spanish city where a rich Afro-Islamic culture flourished for centuries, renowned as a diverse center of learning. And Levee, as the name suggests, is a dam waiting to violently give way.

Expert Answers info

Elroy Sexton, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseProfessional Writer, Professional Tutor

bookB.A. from University of Maryland

bookM.A. from University of Pennsylvania


calendarEducator since 2020

write85 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The reason why August Wilson gives his characters unusual names and nicknames is to tell us something about important about the character. For example, the piano player Toledo is the only member of the band who can read. It’s likely that Wilson chose this name because of its historical reference to the city in Spain that was a Moorish center of learning and multicultural prosperity. Scholars in Moorish Spain preserved the Western knowledge tradition while the rest of Europe was suffering through the “Dark Ages.” The character Toledo is the play’s most philosophical and regularly tries to lecture his band-mates in order to educate them about their true history, talking about “retention memory” of African heritage.

Another character whose name relays key insights about his character is the trumpet player Levee, the male lead whose internal conflict provides much of the play’s dramatic tension and leads to its climax . It’s a significant choice firstly because the play is set...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 755 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Dakota Rabbitt eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseProfessional Writer

bookB.A. from Colby College


calendarEducator since 2019

write295 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Robert C. Evans eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write2,994 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

check Approved by eNotes Editorial